LOS ANGELES (AP) — The U.S. government announced Friday that it won’t try to send dozens of cruise ship passengers quarantined amid coronavirus fears to a city in Southern California that argued the move would pose a potentially life-threatening local risk.
The government informed the California Department of Public Health that it had determined it doesn’t need to use the state-owned Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa to isolate passengers from the Diamond Princess, the state agency said.
Local officials had said they weren’t included in the planning process and want to know what safeguards are in place to prevent the possible transmission of the virus
A federal judge had temporarily barred the swap and questioned why patients weren’t being sent to facilities designed to handle contagious illnesses like Ebola. The Fairview center previously housed people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control had originally estimated that as many as half the passengers would test positive. But the state said the actual number has been “substantially lower.” The judge’s temporary restraining order blocking the transfers came during the time when state officials said the facility had been “critically needed.”
“This is a victory for the citizens of Costa Mesa and Orange County,” Mayor Katrina Foley said in a statement. “But the government has not promised not to place future infected persons there, so the battle is not over. We will continue to ask the court to prohibit the government from using this completely inappropriate facility for housing people infected with a highly communicable and potentially fatal disease.”
A court hearing was scheduled next Monday.
More than 300 American passengers on the cruise ship in Japan had been evacuated and quarantined at U.S. military bases in Northern California and Texas. Some of the passengers had tested positive for the novel coronavirus that has killed thousands of people, mostly in China.
State officials said about 67 passengers sent to Travis Air Force Base in Solano County were California residents, and 15 of them tested positive for the virus. The question was what to do with these passengers, who weren’t able to return to the military base once they test positive although they no longer needed hospital care.
The federal government said it no longer needs to use the Costa Mesa facility because there were only a small number who tested positive for COVID-19 and the 14-day isolation of the others is soon to end, according to the California Department of Public Health’s statement.